N.Y. neighborhood hit by third day of black-Jewish violence

August 22, 1991|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- Black youths hurling rocks and bottles scuffled with the police in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn last night, even as Mayor David N. Dinkins tried to calm the racially troubled neighborhood after two nights of violence.

Mr. Dinkins' efforts swiftly turned sour as he was booed and jeered by hundreds of blacks as he tried to speak. Then, as a black crowd outside pelted the building with rocks and bottles and pounded on the cars in the mayor's entourage, he was trapped inside the apartment of the family whose child had been struck and killed Monday night by a car driven by a Hasidic Jew.

Wedges of police officers formed a human shield in the doorway of the brick apartment house about 7:45 p.m. as the crowd surged around them shouting, "This is not Palestine! We want justice!"

A march by several hundred black youths had already veered off to the headquarters of the Lubavitcher Hasidic sect -- where a homemade Israeli flag was burned -- and there had been running, bottle-throwing skirmishes along Eastern Parkway for almost an hour by the time the mayor arrived for a meeting with about 50 black youths at Public School 167 about 5:30 p.m.

The mayor's visit marked a clear decision by Mr. Dinkins to become involved visibly in efforts to resolve the disturbance, which was set off by Monday night's fatal traffic accident and led to a racial melee in which a Jewish rabbinical student from Australia was stabbed to death.

Despite his calming efforts, the mayor met a skeptical, nearly hostile reception as young blacks poured out their frustration at what they saw as preferential treatment of the Hasidic community by the police.

The mayor had already incensed the Hasidic community by failing to attend the funeral yesterday morning of Yankel Rosenbaum, the visiting Australian Hasidic scholar who was stabbed to death by a group of black youths.

The attack on the 29-year-old Mr. Rosenbaum appeared to be in retaliation for the death of 7-year-old Gavin Cato, who was struck by a car driven by a Hasidic Jew.

The racial melee erupted after rumors spread among blacks that a private Hasidic ambulance had carried off three Hasidic men but had ignored the black child and his severely injured cousin.

The mayor was booed by about 200 blacks as he emerged from the school about 7:30 p.m. to address the crowd.

"No justice, no peace!" the crowd shouted as the mayor tried to calm them.

"Increase the peace!" the mayor snapped back angrily, but no one took up his chant.

"Can I have your attention for just a few minutes?" the mayor pleaded.

"No! no!" the crowd shouted back, booing.

"I care about you. I care about you very desperately," the mayor said.

"Arrest the Jews!" the crowd shouted back.

Finally, Mr. Dinkins got back into his motorcade to go to visit the family of the dead child.

As of 8 p.m., police said, there had been 16 arrests, and four police officers and a civilian had been injured.

The day began somberly and bitterly as hundreds of Hasidic Jews, mostly bearded men wearing long black coats and fedoras, gathered at the Lubavitcher world headquarters for funeral services for Mr. Rosenbaum, the slain Australian student.

It soon became a forum for Hasidic leaders to denounce Mr. Dinkins' handling of the situation and what many called an unprovoked attack on Jews incited by black "agitators" from outside Crown Heights.

"This was a one-sided attack on the Jewish community," said Rabbi Shmuel Butman, delivering a eulogy to the crowd assembled along Eastern Parkway. "This is a blood libel that the community of Crown Heights has been accused of."

After the ceremonies, the Hasidic crowd, now grown to about 1,000, marched to the 71st Precinct station house, where Rabbi Butman said, "When we were children, pogroms were only words in the history books. Unfortunately, we in this neighborhood have seen a pogrom with our own eyes."

One Crown Heights resident, Shimon Hecht, in the kind of emotional remarks repeated over and over in the Hasidic community, called Mr. Dinkins "the first mayor who made a pogrom against Jews in America. Only because of rain, because God intervened, were we protected."

The Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, announced that a grand jury would begin an investigation, probably tomorrow, of the automobile crash that killed the black child.

Meanwhile, Lemerick Nelson Jr., a 16-year-old black youth, was arraigned yesterday on a charge of second-degree murder in the stabbing of Mr. Rosenbaum.

Police reported 17 arrests Tuesday night, the second night of violence, as crowds of black youths threw rocks and bottles, set fire to several vehicles, including a police car, and looted stores along Utica Avenue. Forty-three officers were injured, police said.

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